Early in its term at office this Government set out its agenda to reform planning policy so as to promote sustainable development and in March 2012, the first significant steps were taken to deliver on this promise when the national planning policy framework (NPPF) was adopted.
The aim of the NPPF was to simplify the planning policy framework and thereby reduce the red tape so long identified as slowing and on occasion stifling development. Whether this has been achieved or not is beyond the scope of this article but suffice to say the process of obtaining a planning consent remains a highly technical one in which the value of taking advice from an expert surveyor, land agent, planning consultant or lawyer cannot be underestimated. Adoption of the NPPF did however open up a window of opportunity for owners of land, which had not been allocated or identified by the Local Authority as being suitable for development, to nevertheless secure a planning consent.
The NPPF required Local Authorities to assess the local need for housing over a five year period and to identify sufficient sites within that authorities area on which sufficient houses could be developed to meet that need. The NPPF had immediate effect and many Local Authorities did not have such a Local Plan in place and as a result those without a plan had very limited grounds on which they could refuse an application for consent authorising a residential development. Of course many authorities still refused applications but their decisions were challenged and many planning consents have been granted by the Secretary of State on appeal.
Since March 2012 Local Authorities have been working hard to get their Local Plans in place and many, but not all, have now done so. This window of opportunity is therefore closing fast and if you do have land that you think might be suitable for development you will now need to act fast and take expert professional advice as soon as possible.
Alongside the NPPF and in order to further promote development and remove red tape from the process, this government has introduced a number of new permitted development rights. A permitted development right is one which allows a property owner to change the use of its property without first obtaining a planning consent. Below I have focused on those new rights which are likely to add most value to a property.
As of 30 May 2013 a change of use of an agricultural building to a range of commercial uses has been allowed without the need for a planning consent and as of 6 April 2014 it is now possible, subject to certain conditions, including what is known as “prior approval” – (which is essentially a light touch planning consent); to change the use of agricultural buildings to state funded schools/registered nurseries and most excitingly to residential use.
The relaxation of restrictions on change of use through the introduction of new permitted development rights is not limited to agricultural buildings and since 30 May 2013 a temporary permitted development right has allowed offices to be converted to residential use and since 6 April 2014 buildings previously used as shops, banks and building societies can also now be converted into residential properties.
Certain limitations and procedures continue to apply and it may still be necessary to obtain a planning consent for certain works to the outside of these properties and of course the requirement for building regulations continues. Also undertaking a development using permitted development rights may have consequences on your future use of other land that you own. It is therefore important that you take appropriate professional advice before proceeding. It is however quite clear that, notwithstanding these limitations and restrictions, the introduction of these new permitted development rights is a great opportunity for many.
So, if you own redundant agricultural buildings, a retail unit in what is now a secondary area or offices which are no longer suitable for that purpose you may have a window of opportunity not only to realise a capital gain but also potentially to allow your business to reinvest or relocate. It might also be that you have such a property held within a pension scheme and if so, there may be opportunities to develop it and add value to your pension fund.
With a general election on the horizon in 2015 these windows of opportunity may not be open for long and you should therefore act now and seek appropriate expert professional advice.